Q: For the last three years, I have
attended a weekly staff meeting that, for the most part, has been
unproductive and frustrating. Now I've been promoted and will take
responsibility for the content and structure of these dreaded
get-togethers. Do you have any suggestions about how I can shape
this time with my employees into a positive experience for all of
A: If you feel that “We just can't go on
meeting this way,” you're not alone. Statistics show that poorly
planned and executed agendas decrease employee productivity and
morale before, during, and after they're in session.
To rejuvenate your staff's faith that
meetings will produce results, try the following:
Be sure you have a bona fide
purpose. Often the weekly gathering becomes a sacred cow. No
one dares to question its usefulness. If you ask yourself, “What
is our goal?” and you can't think of one, cancel the meeting. Be
sure to give advance notice so that people can make other plans.
Decide whether you need the whole
group or if a sub-committee or one-to-one consultation would be
more effective. Too often, an entire department gets mired in
irrelevant and unnecessary details. Smaller can be better.
Put together an agenda listing the
items to be covered and the time you expect to spend on each. If
you will be discussing a complex issue, distribute background
material at least one day in advance, so people can prepare.
Designate someone other than
yourself to keep the discussion on point. Pick an individual
who has backbone and the trust and respect of your staff. Tell
all participants that Jon or Sue's role is to promote a
fast-paced, productive meeting. If anyone gets too far
afield-including you, John or Sue will say the group's momentum
is flagging. While this may sound harsh, most people would
rather be chided occasionally than sit through a succession of
A good meeting requires the attention,
commitment, and cooperation of everyone attending. While the
leader's preparation and style have significant impact, participants
also have the power to facilitate or sabotage the agenda. Below,
I've listed a “dirty dozen” attendees who put their own priorities
before the group's. As the chair, you must understand their
motivations and deal effectively with their behavior. If you don't,
they will often succeed in undermining your purpose and derailing
Mouth. This person has an opinion on everything. She loves to
hear the sound of her own voice and will monopolize a meeting given
half a chance. You and/or your expeditor must firmly remind “the
Mouth” that you have a schedule to maintain and other people have
ideas as well.
Naysayer/Yes, Butter is an expert at throwing cold water on
every suggestion. He shows his true colors by starting each of his
remarks with, “Yes, but...” Apparently, fault-finding makes him feel
superior. If you are brainstorming options, begin your session by
stating that all ideas have merit and none will be automatically
rejected. When the Naysayer says, “Yes, but,” remind him of your
Kitchen Sink just can’t bring herself to stick to the subject.
She is a verbal wanderer who has an uncanny knack for speaking
paragraphs in one breath, making it almost impossible for you, or
anyone else, to gain the floor. Unfortunately, cutting her off in
mid-sentence is generally the best method for wresting control. Just
be sure to smile as you do it, since she is often a member of the
influential old guard.
Interrupter knows whatever he plans to say is more important
than any other participant's comments. He runs roughshod over
everyone, grabbing the floor without waiting for his turn. To
restrain him, you must enforce a policy that only the chair or the
expeditor may interrupt the discussion in those rare moments when
it's going nowhere.
The Sleeper's body is
present but her mind is out to lunch. You can usually get her
attention by running a stimulating meeting.
Don't confuse the Sleeper with
The Observer who is paying attention but not interacting.
Generally he's either too shy to speak his mind or he's processing
the discussion and needs time to solidify his position. With him,
follow a policy of “If it ain't broke, don't fix it.” Unless a
public contribution is critical to his career success, consult with
him privately or assume he's in consensus with the group.
Manipulator plays a wicked game of “I'm OK, and you're not.”
Her comments are judgmental and specifically geared to making others
feel stupid and inadequate. This person is difficult to squelch, as
she has honed her technique to a fine edge. If she attacks,
counteract her sting by complimenting her victim’s suggestion. You
might also talk to her in private about her negative attitude,
although she'll probably deny having one.
The Selective Ignorer has
decided some members of your group have inferior opinions. Often he
regards people of the opposite gender or lower-level employees as
universally undeserving of his time or attention. As the meeting
chair, repeat ideas he has purposely slighted to reinforce their
“Ain't It Awful” Game Player uses ever opportunity to complain
about things. Naturally, a meeting is her favorite forum. While she
offers plenty of negativity, she rarely has any positive
suggestions. Because her attitude can quickly depress the entire
group, you need to point out that voicing complaints without
alternatives is unproductive.
The Zealot has an
overriding mission that precludes discussing any topic outside his
agenda. He monopolizes the conversation and will filibuster to make
his point. Because his quest often is irrational, logic rarely
dissuades him. He requires firm handling and a one-to-one conference
to help him realize that others aren't as dedicated to his cause.
The Overkiller is so
determined to win your support that she keeps on pitching when
you're already sold. A positive vote to accept her idea or project
will usually cue her to stop talking.
Finally, there's Mr. Impatient,
whose body language and “Can't we get on with this” remarks
discourage useful discussion. He's anxious to get back to work,
having decided long ago that meetings are superfluous and boring.
If you run a tight ship, he will relax and participate. In fact,
you can use him as a barometer of how your meeting is progressing.
He's probably mirroring what others are thinking but would never